The Presence of Mind: Lessons from the Exploding Kitchen

The Presence of Mind: Lessons from the Exploding Kitchen

Yesterday, I botch my cooking and burned the kitchen down.


Well, I did botch my cooking but the kitchen didn’t burn down. I only wished it did because botch cooking is something I cannot accept. It only means one thing for me.  


I didn’t have the presence of mind. The absence of a presence of mind can literally burn the kitchen down. Like the recent kitchen explosion caused by a waitress who was paying more attention to her phone than her surroundings.    



What is Presence of Mind?

The Merriam Webster dictionary definition of the presence of mind is:

“Self-control so maintained in an emergency or in an embarrassing situation that one can say or do the right thing”  


Which aptly described the action of the careless woman in the youtube video.  


Presence of mind means you are able to focus your attention on your inner thoughts and simultaneously let go of past or future worries.    



What is the Deal with The Presence of Mind?

So what’s the deal with the presence of mind that I am spending a whole blog post ranting and raving about?  


Because, as you can see in the youtube video, it could cost you your life. If you are a samurai in feudal Japan and you have no presence of mind, you may very well end up being cut into two by your opponent.  


It happened to me on numerous occasions during kendo (Japanese fencing) practice where a split second distraction resulted in the bamboo sword of my opponent landing hard on my head. Ouch! Just for trying to recall if I had wind up my car window in the parking lot (or not).  


The existence of digital gadgets, social media and internet 24/7 is making it increasingly difficult to cultivate the presence of mind. Seems like everyone who is hooked on a smartphone is now suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).      




How Does One Attain Presence of Mind?

The following story serves as a good example of the presence of mind in our day to day living:  


One day, the master was watching a practice session in the courtyard. One of his younger student caught his attention. He observed that the presence of the other students was interfering with the young student’s attempts to perfect his technique.


Sensing the young student’s frustration, the master went up to the young man and tapped him on his shoulder.


“What’s the problem?” he inquired.


“I don’t know”, said the youth, with an exasperated look.


“No matter how much I try, I am unable to execute the moves properly”.


“Before you can master the technique, you must understand what harmony means. Come with me, I will explain”, replied the master.


The teacher led his student into the woods until they came upon a stream. The master stood silently on the bank for several moments. Then he spoke.


“Look at the stream,” he said. “There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.”


The young man took the master’s advice to heart. Soon, he was barely noticing the other students around him. Nothing could come in his way of executing the most perfect moves.


Get into the habit of focusing your attention on your inner thoughts and let go of your present worries.


Practice this daily.  


I had to throw away what I cooked because while cooking my thoughts were elsewhere. At that moment I wasn’t being in the moment. I was NOT present and thus my cooking was ruined.  


If I were a samurai in feudal Japan, That would mean I would have died a thousand deaths . . .

The Zen of No Mind (or How to Live Happily in the Present)

The Zen of No Mind (or How to Live Happily in the Present)

I once blew an all expense paid for overseas vacation. Because while physically on vacation, I was worried about my work and a thousand other things. My mind was jammed. Back then, I knew nothing about the Zen of No Mind.


Do you live in the present or ruminate about what’s past?  


How often are you in a state of stillness and calm?


Or are you often in a state of worrying about the future?



The Zen of No Mind

Are often overwhelmed by errant thoughts? You will find that instead of undertaking thoughts in awareness you let those errant thoughts control you. Do you think about that dream vacation while at work? And when you finally on your dream vacation, you begin to fret about the documents piling up in your “IN” tray.  


You may find yourself stuck too deep in the rat race to have time to audit your thoughts. Most of the time, it is your wandering minds that distract you, create worries and put you into numerous sticky situations. All these incessant chatter inside your mind are known as monkey chatter.  


An effective way for you to get rid of all the monkey chatter from your mind is the practice of Mushin no shin [無心の心]. Zen Practitioners call it “mind without mind”. I call it The Zen of No Mind.  



The State of No Mind

You can make the choice of not being stuck and overwhelmed and you can increase your effectiveness in your daily life by practicing the Zen of No Mind. It is also the key to personal growth, health and your ability to relate well with others and your environment.  


When you are in the state of no mind, you are not fixated on one thought or emotion. You are in a state of mind where you “think without thinking”. The practice of no mind means developing flow, keeping the mind serene, blocking out distractions.


You can compare your state of no mind to a pond which merely reflects its environment and the trees around it. When your mind is presented with a distraction, it is similar to the distortion of the pond’s reflections by waves and ripples.


When your mind is free from conscious thought, judgments, ideas, negative emotions (anger and fear or ego) and concerns of past or the future, that is the moment where you attain the state of no mind. In this instance, your mind exists purely “in the moment”. And you experience a state of mental clarity, awareness and enhanced perception.



So, How Do You Achieve the State of No Mind?

Martial artists are the most fervent practitioners of Mushin no shin. Martial artists practice moves until it can be performed without thinking. This is the state of no mind.


Your thinking inhibits action. When you concentrate on the here and the now, concentrate with an empty mind rather than thinking about here and now. Do not let the words “no mind” confuse you. It does not mean empty mind like an empty shell. It means letting go of your fears, worries, and distractions. Let your mind be fully present, aware and free.


A good way of practicing no mind is being in a relaxed meditative state while doing mundane daily activities like washing dishes, mowing the lawn or doing the laundry. Physical and mental tasks will seem like a breeze. Your mind becomes intuitive and reacts naturally to whatever comes along instead of thinking of what is happening next.


Takuan Sōhō, a priest in feudal Japan who applied Zen principles to swordsmanship wrote:


Takuan Soho


In my practice of no mind, I always keep in my mind what my sensei had taught me about sparring with an opponent during Kendo practices: go into combat with the mindset that you are already dead.


Within the Way of the Warrior tradition of ancient Japanese is the mindset that a samurai warrior must always be prepared to die. This is a samurai’s best chance of attaining Mushin no shin, for his life depends on it.


Embrace the Zen of No Mind and live happily ever after. In the present moment . . .

What a Farm Horse Taught Me about Being Mindful

What a Farm Horse Taught Me about Being Mindful

I have discovered that having lingering thoughts during martial arts practices is a big no-no. Because my thoughts are cut short when my face meets my opponent’s fist. That was my first lesson in mindfulness. Being mindful means I have the opportunity to parry and counterattack.


Not being mindful means I get more cuts and bruises.


We seek to quiet the mind and live in the present moment. Technology is wearing us out and we are getting too distracted. And then the Eastern Philosophy of being mindful comes along. Mindfulness has become a buzzword. A search on for books on mindfulness will get you 8000 titles.



Being Mindful

Being Mindful, as defined by Psychology Today, is “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, being mindful means living in the moment and awakening to experience”.


If you are new to the concept of being mindful, it could come across as something mind boggling. Therefore, let’s begin with the tale of the farmer and his horse:


The Farmer and His Horse

A long long time ago there lived a farmer with his wife and son. On his farm he has a horse and one day it ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came by and said to him, “Without your horse and your farm will suffer. How unlucky!”


Maybe,” the farmer replied.


The next morning, the horse returned with three wild horses. “Now you are three horses richer. How wonderful!” the neighbors uttered.


Maybe,” the farmer replied.


The farmer’s son was excited to see three new horses. He tried to ride one of them, got thrown off and broke his leg. The farmer’s neighbors came by again and offered their sympathy. “With your son’s injury, you will have more work than you can handle. How unfortunate!” they said.


Maybe,” the farmer replied.


The following day, conscription officials came to seize young men for the army. The farmer’s son was exempted due to a broken leg. The neighbors congratulated the farmer for the pleasant turn of events. “Most young men never return alive from the war. How fortunate!” they said.


Maybe,” the farmer replied.



Cultivate the Habit of Being Mindful

This ageless Zen parable illustrates how one can cultivate the habit of being mindful. One surefire way is by observing life and events without attaching negative or positive judgments to them. Being mindful is about developing non-judgmental awareness where you can find beauty in the present moment.


Non-judgmental awareness is the first step to living blissfully. Be aware that our brains is on auto pilot when it comes to judging a person or situation. Thus it takes a conscious effort over a period of time to recondition the mind to suspend judgment.


Being judgmental, especially in a negative way, affects us personally. The act of judging anything negatively may result in negative focus leading to negative action with negative consequences.Take a positive step today by practicing non-judgment. Begin your day with a prayer from A Course in Miracles that states, “Today I shall judge nothing that occurs.”


Use this statement to remind yourself throughout the day each time you are making judgment. When you begin this exercise, you may want to start with one hour of “non-judgment time” and increase the time gradually as you progress.


May you find freedom and contentment in your daily practice of being mindful.

An Anatomy of a Serial Victim

An Anatomy of a Serial Victim

This is a story about Harriet.


Harriet is a forty-something administrative manager before her company downsized and put her out of work. Harriet has a victim mentality.


I am calling her a serial victim because for years, she has conveniently played the role of a victim.


Victim Mentality Defined

In personality psychology, a person with a victim mentality has an external locus of control. A concept developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, locus of control is the extent of control in which an individual believe he or she possesses.


A person with an external locus of control blame external forces (people, situation, events) for his or her “misfortunes”. An individual with an internal locus of control believe that he or she is in control and can influence events and their outcomes.


People with victim mentality find that they are unable to cope with difficult or challenging situations because he or she had developed a habitual thought process which harbor feelings of powerlessness.



The “Eternal” Victim

Harriet’s proclivity towards victimhood has been ingrained in her since childhood. Her own limiting beliefs developed as a child made her belief that good luck was not part of her DNA.


At any one time, there will be (at least) one antagonist in her life. It could be someone within her family, workplace or social circle. She believes that all her antagonists are there to criticize, judge and put her down. So far, she had never fail to create an antagonist in her life. Otherwise, who can she blame for her misfortunes and string of bad lucks?


During her days as an administrative manager, Harriet often complained about being treated unfairly though on many occasions evidence had proved that she was either partially or completely responsible for what had transpired.


She thrives being the center of attention as it provides a temporary relief to her feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. However, it doesn’t help her overcome the four “lows” in her life – low self-esteem, low self-confidence, low self-love and low self-worth.


After being laid off from work, Harriet wallowed in self-pity. She spent endless hours on the phone with her sister who had to endure her complains, problem-focused issues and (often exaggerated) sob stories.



A Serial Victim’s Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Harriet tend to display a passive-aggressive stance in her interaction with others. A person of a passive-aggressive nature is subtle, indirect and non-confrontational. Part of their game plan is laying blame and planting guilt trips.


In the passive-aggressive victim mentality world like Harriet’s, it is never the victim’s fault. Using emotional blackmail, she makes people around her feel sorry for her. She also play on others’ guilt by making others believe that they are responsible for her plight and unhappiness.


One reason Harriet is still stuck in a victim mode is a perpetuating factor known as secondary gain. A psychological motivator which provides “benefits” of being a victim, her secondary gain comes in the form of offers of help, sympathy, and being the center of attention.



Are You Suffering From Victim Mentality?

If you identify with Harriet and feel that victim mentality exists in you, all is not lost. Victim mentality is a state of mind and not a death sentence. Here are some positive steps you can take to assume control of your life:



Being able to acknowledge that you are victim by choice is the first step to making a positive change. Understand that having a victim mentality is a thing of the past but need not be part of your future.



The ability to take personal responsibility empowers you to make great progressive strides in your life. Choose to respond instead of react. You may not be able to control what happens to you in life, but you definitely can control the way you respond to them.



Instead of focusing on what is wrong with your life, learn to find joy in your life. Identify things you can be grateful for. You can begin with something as simple as being thankful for a sunny weather. Create a “gratitude journal” and start documenting things, events or people you can be grateful for.



Releasing the pain and anger through forgiveness is an essential step towards healing. Forgive those who have harmed or wronged you in the past because holding on to the anger will not alter the past nor change the person who have wronged you. Your ego may keep you from being forgiving but bear in mind that forgiveness releases the “antagonists” in your life from having a hold on you and prevents them from tormenting you emotionally.

    The character in this article is purely a work of fiction. Any uncanny resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

How to Enjoy a Good Night’s Sleep Without Counting Sheep

How to Enjoy a Good Night’s Sleep Without Counting Sheep

You toss and turn, adjust your pillow and try to find that sweet spot on your bed. Yet, after a good 10 minutes, you are still wide awake and staring at the ceiling fan. Your good night’s sleep has eluded you.


You glanced at the clock and realized that its 3 a.m. and in 4 hours, you need to be up, dressed, eat and commute to the office for a very important presentation. In a panicked frenzy, you go to the kitchen and ingest a glass of Jack Daniels . . .


At the rate things are going, you may end up an alcoholic or sedative junkie just to get a good night’s sleep. Well, if there’s any consolation, you are not alone as 40 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder.



What happened to your good night’s sleep?

Not getting a good night’s sleep will affect your cognitive performance and you may experience memory loss, inattentiveness and easily agitated. In the long term, an insomniac is heading towards the path to anxiety and depression.


If you are sleep deprived, your day to day function could be affected. You may experience difficulty in making the right decisions, feel drowsy throughout the day and drive like a drunk driver. You may also develop cravings for foods with high sugar and carbohydrate.



What is depriving you of a good night’s sleep?

Let’s analyze the nature of your sleep deprivation and determine which category of insomnia you are suffering from.


Transient Insomnia lasts from a few days to a week. The usual suspects of transient insomnia are medication, caffeine and stress. Changes in your physical environment (excessive noise, light, and change in temperature) is also a factor. Also known as short-term insomnia, transient insomnia may be resolved once you adapt or no longer subject to the cause.



5 Steps to a good night’s sleep

Before resorting to sedatives, Jack Daniels or counting sheep, try these:


1.   Getting your bedroom ready for a good night’s rest. 

Create a calm and soothing environment for sleeping by adjusting the room lighting and temperature to your preferred setting. Keep all electronic devices with screens out of your bedroom. Blue light from TV screens, laptop and mobile phones can be disruptive to your sleep.


2.  Your bed is for sleeping only.

Your subconscious mind must  accept that the bed is only for sleeping (activities related to intimacy is the only exception to this rule).

Once your bed is associated with a good night’s sleep, you will sleep soundly when your head touches the pillow. Avoid snacks, TV and activities that arouses your mind (like preparing for morning meeting at work).


3.  Establish a pre-sleep routine.

You should start unwinding and preparing your mind for rest an hour before bedtime. You may already had an active day at work and your mind is swirling with excitement. Prior to your bedtime, try calming music, relaxation exercise or stretching. If you want to watch TV, make sure it is something relaxing. News is NOT something relaxing.


4.  Refrain from any form of stimulant 4 hours prior to bedtime.

Yes, this includes caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Although alcohol have the effects of making you tipsy and maybe even sleepy, its effects wear off after a few hours and then it begins to act as a stimulant.


5.  Go to bed ONLY when you feel sleepy.

Just because you missed a few hours of sleep a night ago, don’t try to make up for it by going to bed early. If you are struggling to fall asleep, get up and go to another room and do something instead. DO something relaxing until you feel tired. Then return to your room and go to sleep.



If you have trouble sleeping three nights a week for a period of three months or more, you are suffering from chronic insomnia. If that’s the case, take two pills and call me in the morning . . . 🙂

Wise Men Fashion Themselves

Wise Men Fashion Themselves

“Carpenters bend wood. Fletchers bend arrows. Wise men fashion themselves.”
– The Buddha core values



What Do You Stand For?

Core values are guiding principles that dictate our behavior and action. Just as a carpenter shapes the wood in the shape he needs and the fletcher creates a straight arrow. And the wise control their mind and shape it as it should be. 


Living in today’s “almost transparent” world of information is just a Google click away. Thus, it is essential to ‘stand for’ something. Many a times, in order to adapt a variety of situations, we take on a variety of personas.


In the process of pleasing the people we encounter in our daily lives, we often confuse ourselves. Do you know yourself? Are you able to communicate what value you can bring to your organization? Family? Partner? Social circle?


Successful people are the people who have gotten their act together. They know who they ARE deep within themselves, what they stand for and what they want from life. It is about being authentic. Authenticity will not take place if you try to be someone else or living up to someone else’s expectation.


Do you have a personal mission statement? What qualities or characteristics that you possess sets you apart from your competitors or your colleagues? If you were to write an elevator speech how does your bare bone summary of what you do sounds?


What do you value most? In your work? Relationship? Life? Community? The boundaries between work, relationship, family and community are not as clear-cut as they used to be. In this age, they must somehow be aligned with one another. Authenticity means that your life is aligned and your thoughts are congruent.


How do you want to be perceived? Is it congruent with how you are perceived now?



Examine Your Core Values

WHO are you? WHAT do you stand for? Core values are part of who you are. It guides your behaviour and thought patterns. One of the biggest hurdle in our pursuit of happiness, career success, and social interactions is the lack of clarity about our values.


The preoccupation with cultural, societal and media values distorts our perception of who we really are. The first step is to embark on the process of self-discovery. It just requires you to think hard and examine, among other things – your core values, your mission in life and your vision of your own future.


This exercise requires you to suspend judgment and cast aside all the usual descriptors at work that you depend on to fit into an organizational structure.


In short, forget your job title. And the little letters that comes after your name. Forget about the LLBs, BAs, BScs, etc. Instead, ask yourself: “what are the personal accomplishments that make me proud, ignites my passion and gives meaning to my life?”




What Do YOU Want To Be Famous For?

Once you have answered that, ask yourself one more question. Yes. That Tom Peters question. “What do I want to be famous for?”


Be astounded by the process of this exercise because once you know yourself better, you know your place in this universe. Management guru Peter Drucker once noted that:

“Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their methods of work and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person … into an outstanding performer.”

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